Classically Inclined

December 1, 2016

On sabbatical goals and #acwrimo

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 11:56 am
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I decided this year that I was going to have a go at Academic Writing Month, better known as #acwrimo over on Twitter. Taking its inspiration from National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, it’s basically a way to get an academic writing practice established – whether that’s daily writing, having a project finished by the end of the month, you name it, you can have a go at it. I had a go at this back in 2012, with mixed results – I found it a good way to push myself forward on revisions for the Seneca book, although I didn’t get as much done I as I wanted (plus ça change). AcWriMo isn’t good for everything – its emphasis on counting words, for instance, isn’t always the most helpful thing to do to help move your academic work along. But right now, given the fact I’m trying to get as much of the monster book drafted as possible, I thought that going the AcWriMo route would be sensible to move the sheer generative phase forward.

And so I set myself a very simple goal – to write at least 500 words a day, with Sundays off. And it worked really quite well… until the 22nd of November, when I completely fell off the bandwagon through a combination of full family sickness, travelling to a research seminar and giving a paper, and needing to finish the work of rigorously checking the proofs of the Seneca book by the deadline. So there’s been quite a lot of academic work in the last week or so of AcWriMo, but it’s not really been translating into words. Which is fine, not least because the proofs have been returned, the seminar was successfully given, and generally all the other bits and pieces I needed to do are more or less done – thus again reinforcing the point that word count isn’t always the most important thing.

But on the issue of word count, I don’t think I did too badly – overall, I managed a bit over 14,000 words in those three weeks. This was made quite a bit easier by the fact I’m counting my seminar script and handout translations in those words, and the former certainly pre-existed and just needed to be shaped into a script form. But the other words mean I’ve now got all of chapter two for the monsters book in first draft, and chapter three is under way.

When I applied for this sabbatical, I said that my goals for the term were to complete the majority of the Monster book manuscript, and to complete an article based on the research seminar. A short, sharp encounter with reality meant that I soon revised the first goal to having the first half of the Monster book in first draft, which feels like it should still be doable – not least as I’m due to give a paper at an AHRC conference in a few weeks based on chapter four, which should get that started. I’m not sure about whether the article manuscript will get much further, but at least I know what I want to say and that there is a kernel of an idea there. So it’s all progress – and sometimes, putting the words down onto the paper is what you need to do.


  1. That all sounds like a lot of progress. I am increasingly worried by the ways in which people (broadly, I see this a lot on Twitter) are judging their success by whether or not they are any good at meeting the goals they set themselves. You do a good job here of not letting the fact it doesn’t match up to the original goal dampen your positive view of the work you’ve accomplished, but it is a worrying trend. I am particularly worried because it can be very demotivating, make one feel like a failure even when much has been accomplished.

    I’m not sure we need to be good at predicting the future. We do need to be good at moving projects forward and getting them out, whether that involves putting words on the page or meticulously checking proofs.

    Comment by Jo VanEvery — December 1, 2016 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

    • I’ve been very pleased with how it’s gone, actually, given that at the start of the term I was convinced I wasn’t going to get a single thing done! But you’re right, acknowledging that you may have set the wrong goal is a really important part of learning how to set better goals and manage your projects better. Sometimes the sense of failure comes from not being able to meet deadlines externally imposed on you – like getting the proofs done, for instance – but being aware of how to negotiate the hard and soft deadlines in a way that makes you feel in control is important too.

      The word count thing is pernicious if it’s allowed to escape from its specific purpose of generating raw wordage, I agree – but I think modelling when that’s useful and when it’s not is an important corrective. At least, I hope it is!

      Comment by lizgloyn — December 2, 2016 @ 8:32 am | Reply

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